The Best and Worst of Adaptations

         During Film and Literature this semester the class studied many combinations of films and their respective literary sources. Some of these combinations were successful, holding the integrity of the written works they were based upon, while others seem to fall short of this goal.

         I feel that one of the least successful combinations studied was A Streetcar Named Desire, written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan in 1951. I believe that this can be attributed to censorship. The main problem that jumps out to the viewer is the ending of the film and the alterations made to Stella's character. In the play Stella stays with the brutish Stanley despite his transgressions against her sister. In the film Stanley (Marlon Brando) must be punished in some way for his crime. This punishment comes in the form of Stella (Kim Hunter) leaving him despite his painful cries for her to stay.

         Stella was changed in other ways as well. In the play Stanley and Stella as a couple seem to make more sense together. Her character seems to enjoy his abusive outbursts as if they excite her, which helps foreshadow her decision to stay with him after the rape of her sister. In my opinion, a change this drastic damages the integrity of the work. Williams wrote that particular ending for a reason. When one changes a character's life-altering decision one essentially changes the character. In other words, to the audience the essence of characters are is defined by what they do, how they react to their environment, and the emotions they display. By changing the characters, one can even twist and distort the whole point of the story as it was originally written. When one is adapting a story to film, one of the most important components of success is keeping true to the characters and the point of the original story.

         In contrast I feel that one of the most successful combinations was A Doll's House, written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Patrick Garland in 1973. When I watched the movie I still had that slight sense of watching a live stage performance. It can be difficult to make a play an interesting film without sacrificing certain aspects of the characters or the story, but that did not seem to be a problem in this case.

         The action of the film was kept indoors and confined in a fashion similar to a stage set. At times that can make a film seem boring, but in this instance I feel that it worked extremely well. The closed nature of the environment served a couple of purposes. First of all the attention of the audience was focused more on the characters' developments and interactions with each other. It also heightened the intensity and desperation of certain situations in the story. For example, Nora grew more and more desperate to keep the truth from Torvald as the story progressed. Since she was almost never seen outside of the house, it made her seem more like a trapped animal waiting to be devoured.

Jacklyn Eaton

Table of Contents